It never fails that just as I am getting all geared up for Christmas, the seed catalogs start arriving.
Now all I want is for Christmas to be over so I can get busy on plant selections and ordering. I'm fickle that way.
This year I have my eye adding an interesting little plant to my gardens next season. This would be a dwarf version of the common sweetspire (Itea virginica) called ''Little Henry.'' This is not a new plant, first being introduced in 1999, and although I've had my eye on it for a few years, I never seemed to get around to ordering it. This season it will be at the top of my list.
In my mind's eye, I can picture the white, spiral-like flowers cascading from this mounded plant. I won't plant just one, being sure to follow the rule of threes and will have at least that many for each 25 feet of garden border.
Now that I've decided on a new focal plant for the garden beds, another problem arises - what to plant with it. Companion planting design can be done in several ways and now I have to decide which way I want to go.
For example, do I want to focus on the way Itea looks in fall with its brilliant red foliage? If so, I can use any number of accompanying plants along with it in the border that will not only spotlight the fall foliage, but will complement it as well. The 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year, Amsonia hubrechtii has bright yellow to golden foliage in late fall and would look stunning next to the fall foliage of Little Henry. Toss a couple Hakonechloa macra (Japanese Forest Grass), species 'Nicholas' with its orange and red tones and the fall color explosion of these three plants would be quite exciting.
But what it I don't want to wait for fall? Amsonia will be finished blooming by the time the long, white Itea spires open up, and Hakonechloa doesn't bloom until late summer, and even those flowers are so inconspicuous, they are barely worth mentioning.
As far as flowering consistency, Itea would be better served matched with plants that are in bloom around the same time. And if that's the way to go, then what effect do I want? I could use the white Itea in a cool-toned garden with shades of lavendar or pink, such as a pale blush Achillea (yarrow) called 'Richard Nelson,' or alongside Baptisia australis (false indigo), which was the Perennial Plant Association's 2010 Perennial of the Year.
If I felt that section of the garden needed more excitement, I could team up Little Henry with more intense hot colors, such as Belamcanda Chinesis (blackberry lily) with its tropical orange and yellow speckled flowers or a bright red or yellow Hemerocallis (daylily), such as Show Girl or Ruffled Apricot.
There is more than one way to display a focal plant, other than for its fall brilliance or early summer flowers. That is to show it off all season long with either annuals or colorful leaves. Even after Itea has dropped its white blossoms, the foliage can be complemented with Coleus, a colorful annual found in hundreds of combinations of leaf shapes, variagations and colors. If you prefer perennials, you could try any number of Heuchera, commonly known as coral bells. Heuchera combinations run anywhere from deep purple to pale lime and every variegated shade in between. Heuchera Tiramisu, for example, has deep charteuse leaves splashed heavily with burgundy. Huechera Southern Comfort is a new variety with extra large leaves shaded in sort of a peachy-cinnamon. And Heuchera Alabama Sunrise has longer, more narrow leaves tinged a golden yellow with deep red veining. Colorful leaves are just as attractive as flowers in the garden and more and more cultivars are making it possible to show them off.
Suddenly, with plans to add one plant to the gardens, I have managed to considerably lengthen my must-have list of new plants this year. This is what happens when the catalogs begin to appear.